By: Lisa Coleman
Last week in Oaxaca I was reminded of the exquisite tastes that can be found throughout Mexico. But, tis the season for wine! And at my age… wine is the key. I never thought I would become one of those people who perused the wine list with my cheater reading glasses and actually gave damn about where a particular grape came from. But I do try! Whether I know what I’m ordering isn’t exactly the point, but I have really fallen in love with everything about wine. I have morphed into a real wino, oh, and a foodie. Isn’t that an odd term? “Foodie”… who came up with that? (My “Foodie” blogger friends will have to let me know!)
Anyway, as my wine drinking years crisscrossed into my Mexico travel career, it was quickly apparent that: A.) It wasn’t about how many tequila shots I could do anymore (which at one point was indeed an impressive number!) B.) The Mexican wine scene did in fact exist. C.) It’s quite a good scene.
Once again, as with most things in Mexico, there is far more here than meets the eye. Even sophisticated sippers may not understand the depth and excellence of our neighbor’s southern grapes. To bring you up to speed, here’s a quick history lesson and a bit of interesting information.
Wine has been a companion of food since the dawn of time. Yet in Mexico the possibilities of the grape were not discovered until the 18th century, long after the wine regions of France had defined themselves. A Jesuit priest, Father Juan de Ugarte, and his missionaries arrived to Baja California in 1701 and took charge of the Loreto Mission. It was he who planted the original grapevines on the peninsula and initiated the future of Mexico’s vineyards.
What most connoisseurs may not know is that Mexico has a privileged region for the breeding and cultivation of great wines. In the northern most part of the Baja Peninsula, predominantly between Ensenada and Tecate, lie two famous valleys – Guadalupe and Calafia. In these areas, well within the wine-producing zone of the Northern Hemisphere, the waters of the Pacific Ocean dictate coastal weather. This creates a somewhat Mediterranean climate with winter rain and dry springs and summers. The result is a weather pattern that resembles that of France’s Rhone and Southern Burgundy regions.
Mexican wine and winemaking got off to a rather sluggish start and national names struggled to make a reputation for themselves around the world. But over time, modernization, development and a commitment to quality have cultivated the valleys’ resources the highest level. Mexico is indeed producing fine wines. The larger wineries like Pedro Domecq, Bodegas de Santo Tomás and L.A. Cetto continue to elevate the standards of Mexican blends. The smaller boutique houses, namely Cavas Valmar, Monte Xanic, Casa de Piedra, Liceaga, Vinisterra and Chateau Camou are also producing low volume runs of extremely flavorful and structured selections that have gained international notoriety. The level of excellence in today’s wine from the Baja is at a pinnacle never before attained in Mexico. It is not uncommon to see Mexican wines on import lists in the United States and Europe, even in France. (see a map of the region and wineries here: http://www.wineriesinbaja.com/baja-winery-maps.htm
As long as there has been wine, there has been celebration of the harvest. And celebrations are at their best in Mexico. With splendor, grandeur, beauty and excitement the Mexican people embrace the tradition of recognizing the moment when grapes mature and new wines are born. Each year, beginning the first week in August, the Mexican wineries host the Grape Harvest Fiesta (Fiesta de la Vendimia).
Over the course of four weeks, in the Valley of Guadalupe in the municipality of Ensenada, Baja California, grapes are carefully plucked from their vines and festivities abound. Cultural events, tours of the Valley, tastings and sumptuous feasts are the highlight for hundreds of visitors who partake in the offerings of local producers. Throughout the month, each winery has a schedule of happenings geared specifically for the introduction of their latest creations. Most of the wineries participate in group events.
The quality of the wine estates of Mexico is constantly improving. Consumption is increasing and the wines of the Baja have surpassed the era when there were merely aspirations of collectors and curious connoisseurs. Like its cuisine, Mexican wine is now a respected contender in the wine circles of the world.
For more information about the Fiestas de la Vendimia in and around Ensendada area, check out http://www.fiestasdelavendimia.com/ or http://www.bajabound.com/events/vendimiaschedule.php. This year’s events kick off on August 5th with an opening “Wine Experience” and culminate with a Paella Cooking Contest on August 22nd.. Most events cost between $25 and $150.00 US dollars, but admission is free for the traditional street fair on August 19th and 20th at Santo Tomás.
If you’re a wine drinker, this should certainly make your list of events. I say bottoms up, Mexico and cheers for stepping so proudly and successfully into the wine arena.
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.